Conway Twitty (September 1, 1933 - June 5, 1993) was one of the United States' most successful artists of the 20th century. Twitty had the most singles (55) reach Number 1 on various national music charts. Conway Twitty's across the board totals were greater than that of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Garth Brooks. Most notably known as a country music singer, Twitty also enjoyed success in early Rock and Roll, R&B, and Pop music (among others).
Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in the small town of Friars Point, Mississippi and named by his father after famous silent film actor, Harold Lloyd. His family moved to Helena, Arkansas when he was 10, and there he put together his first band, the "Phillips County Ramblers". Two years later, he had his own local radio show every Saturday morning. While in Arkansas, Twitty indulged his second passion, baseball. He received an offer to play with the Philadelphia Phillies after high school but he joined the United States Army instead.
After his discharge from the Army, Twitty again pursued a music career. After hearing Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train," he began writing original rock 'n' roll material. As a matter of course, he headed for the Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and worked with the likes of Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and many others. He changed his name in 1957, looking at a map, he selected Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas. The character of Conrad Birdie in the musical Bye Bye Birdie is said to be based loosely on a combination of Twitty and Presley.
Twitty's fortune changed when he joined MGM records. He had all but given up hope when news came from a DJ in Ohio that the flip side of his single "I'll Try" (which went nowhere for most of 1958), "It's Only Make Believe," was catching on. The song gradually spread throughout the country, and for a brief period, some believed that it was Elvis recording under a different name. The song didn't take long to record and never was thought to have been anything but a filler. The record took nearly one year in all to reach and stay at the top spot of the charts. The song went on to sell over 8 million records and to No. 1 on the Billboard pop music charts in the U.S. as well as No. 1 in 21 different nations. Twitty would go on to enjoy rock-n-roll success with a hard rock song like, "Danny Boy" and "Lonely Blue Boy".
Conway Twitty always wanted to record country music and in 1965 he did just that. His first few country albums were met with country DJs refusing to play them by the count that he was well-known as a rock-n-roll singer. He finally broke free with his first number one country song, "Next In Line" in 1968. In 1970, Conway would record and release his second signature song, "Hello Darlin'". He twice accomplished something that few singers ever do even once - score a signature song (and in two genres, yet). Up through the time of his death, Conway opened his concerts with one and closed with the other, and that first signature song - "It's Only Make Believe" - would become accepted as a country standard, even though it never made the Billboard country charts.
In 1971, he released his first hit duet with Loretta Lynn, "After the Fire Is Gone," followed by "Lead Me On" (1971), "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" (1973), "As Soon As I Hang Up the Phone" (1974) and "Feelins'" (1975). Together, they won four consecutive Country Music Association awards for vocal duo (1972 - 1975).
In 1973, Conway released "You've Never Been This Far Before," which was No. 1 for three weeks that September. Some disc jockeys refused to play the song because of its suggestive lyrics.
Twitty lived for many years in Hendersonville, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, where he built a country music entertainment complex called Twitty City. Its lavish displays of Christmas lights were a famous local sight. It has since been sold to the Trinity Broadcasting Network and converted to a Christian music venue.
Twitty never won a solo CMA award. Yet, by the end of his tenure at MCA in 1981, he had accumulated 32 No. 1 hits, while another 15 had reached the Top 5. He moved to Warner Brothers records in 1982, where he had another 11 No. 1 hits. By 1987, Conway was back at MCA, where he continued to score top 10 hits until 1991.
Twitty became ill while performing in Branson, Missouri, and he died from an abdominal aneurysm. Shortly before he died, he had recorded a new album, suitably called Final Touches. Twitty was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Conway Twitty married three times. And after his death the widow, Dee Henry Jenkins, and his four grown children from the previous wives, Michael, Joni, Kathy and Jimmy Jenkins, fell into a very public dispute over the estate. His will had not been updated to account for the third marriage, but Tennessee law reserves one third of any estate to the widow. A public auction of much property and memorabilia had to be held due to the inability of the heirs to agree on a division of the assets.
While Conway has been known to cover songs - most notably "Slow Hand," which was a major pop hit for the Pointer Sisters - his songs have not been covered that often. However, two notable covers include George Jones' rendition of "Hello Darlin'" and Blake Shelton's "Goodbye Time."
Conway is often noted for being "The Best Friend a Song Ever Had," and to his millions of fans, such a statement rings true, 12 years after his passing. A story out of Tennessee illustrates the power of Conway's music. A man had left his house, his wife and children and had been gone for quite some time. When asked if she thought he was going to come back the woman replied "I know he'll be back, he didn't take his Conway records." A few days later the man returned saying he needed a break, but his wife's faith in her husband's love of Conway Twitty music illustrates the devotion of his fans.
Twitty's last chart appearance on the country charts was a duet with Anita Cochran, "I Want to Hear a Cheating Song," in 2004. Twitty's voice was electronically created based on one of his hits from the 1980s.